There's one trail I always try to hike this time every year - Dog Mountain. Dog Mtn has the most incredible display of wildflowers in the entire Columbia River Gorge. Come late May, Dog's summit meadows are yellow with the sheer numbers of balsamroot flowers in bloom. It's a breathtakingly beautiful sight, and one I try very hard not to miss.
Size matters! Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.
|Dog Mtn this way!|
Early this week one of my co-workers tipped me off that the flowers on Dog would be in full bloom for the weekend. Luckily, I had Friday off, and immediately made plans to go there.
|The lower meadows|
I recruited my son Cody, who's home for a couple of weeks between school and his summer assignment. With his degree in Botany, he's a great companion for wildflower hikes.
|Bear helps himself to some water|
And of course Bear is always a willing hiking partner. You can't climb Dog Mountain without your dog!
|Midway view point|
After March and April's endless rains, the month of May so far had been dry. This day was no exception. Sunny skies greeted us as we pulled into the trailhead.
|A quick rest at "Puppy Point"|
Dog Mtn has a high price of admission to its wildflower meadows. Hikers must climb up a gruellingly steep trail that gains nearly 3000 feet in just three short miles. It's not for the weak of knees or faint of heart. But if you've got the strength and stamina to reach its summit, great are the rewards.
|Faces towards the sun|
The Dog Mtn trail starts out steep from the get-go. From the trailhead, hikers are immediately launched into a relentless series of never-ending switchbacks. Poison oak was growing in abundance here, and we frequently had to dodge around its leafy bushes (Bear, oblivious to the stuff, charged right through).
|The grand summit meadows|
A half mile up the trail lies the first junction, where visitors are confronted with their choice of the "more difficult" or "less difficult" trail (I always love how both paths are described by the word "difficult"). Fortunately, the "less difficult" trail is the more scenic of the two, and the one I always take.
|Balsamroot as far as the eye could see|
Another mile and 1000 feet of climbing gets you to the first, lower viewpoint, nicknamed "Puppy Point" by some of us locals. Cody and I got our first look at the balsamroot fields. Here the bloom had been going strong for at least a week or two, but the flowers were still lovely and plentiful. We took a quick rest break at the overlook. The views to the west are spectacular, including nearby Wind Mountain and the Columbia River. And everything is framed by golden yellow balsamroot blooms.
|The meadows were chock full of yellow blooms|
After a few (okay a bunch) of clicks from my camera, we resumed our trek to the top. Another mile and 1000 feet more climbing awaited us. And in this stretch the trail gets extremely steep! Progress slows to a mere crawl. This part of the hike always seems to take forever.
|Brilliant purple phlox|
But finally you emerge from the forest into a broad treeless meadow chock-full of cheerful yellow balsamroot flowers. The surrounding hillside is yellow with their blossoms. The flowering fields stretch endlessly up the steep slope. As many times as I've been up here, this sight never fails to amaze and delight.
|Happy yellow blossom|
Annnnd.....it's photography time! My camera was out and firing, the memory card filling fast. So much beauty to capture. The sunny skies were a bonus, but the strong wind was not. It's hard to get images of flowers when they're being buffeted around. But of course, I tried. And I did manage to get a couple nice images.
|The balsamroot petered out near the summit|
Past the upper viewpoint, the trail continued to climb another half mile and almost 500 feet to Dog Mountain's summit. Usually the meadows here are ablaze with flowers, but not today. The balsamroot petered out quickly past the upper viewpoint. I think we were a little too early to catch the entire mountain in full flower mode. Another two weeks, and this place would be one big colorful garden.
|Summit view of Wind Mountain|
But it was still a pleasant trek to the top of the mountain. Other flowers, such as phlox and buttercup were blooming, and made up for the lack of balsamroot. Upon reaching the summit proper, Cody and I claimed a spot near the edge of the forest and enjoyed a wind-sheltered view as we ate our lunch. About two dozen people and a few dogs were scattered about the summit meadow, all relaxing and taking in the Gorge panorama.
|Paintbrush was thick near the trailhead|
After a blissful lunch break, it was time to head back down the mountain. For the return trip, we opted for the Augspurger Mountain trail. Although a bit longer distance than the "less difficult" trail, the Augspurger provided a gentler grade and wound through a lovely forest.
|Lupine just starting to bloom|
After such a grueling climb, traveling downhill was a welcome change. But it wasn't long before my knees and feet began to complain. Luckily, the forest clearings provided nice patches of lupine and paintbrush as a distraction.
|Columbia River view on the descent|
Near the end of my hike, the forest opened up to a wonderful vista of the Columbia River. The clear skies provided visibility for miles to the west. I stopped in my tracks and just took it all in. (And then of course, I captured it on my memory card!)
On the way up, Cody and I ran into a couple of ladies. We stopped and exchanged hellos. One of the women, marvelling over the wonderful display of wildflowers exclaimed "We're so lucky to live in such a beautiful place!"
I couldn't agree with her more. And in the spring, there's no place more spectacular than the lush wildflower meadows of Dog Mountain.